[PS-2.72] The effect of frequency in pronoun production

Lau, S. H.

The University of Hong Kong

Previous research suggests that speakers use pronouns more when they refer back to the subject; when there is a single entity in the discourse; and when there is only one entity that matches the gender of the pronoun. This suggests that pronoun production relies on the accessibility of a referent.

One factor known to influence accessibility is frequency. The present study aims to examine whether pronoun production is influenced by frequency using a story continuation task (n=52). We manipulated frequency of referent nouns in single entity (the woman(HF)/postman(LF) skated to the house) and two-entity contexts (Subject-HF/Object-LF:the girl(HF) calmed the monk(LF); Subject-LF/Object-HF: the postman(LF) warned the mother(HF)). We also manipulated gender in two-entity contexts.

We found significant effects of subjecthood, gender, and competition, consistent with previous research (p<.001). In single entity context, there was no effect of frequency. In two-entity context, however, there was a significant interaction between frequency and subject/object referent (p<.05). In the Subject-LF/Object-HF condition, pronouns for subject referent decreased while object referent increased compared to the Subject-HF/Object-LF condition. Thus, our results suggest that frequency significantly influences pronoun production in the presence of multiple entities.